So where will Tiger Woods fit in the pantheon of golf? Up there with Hagan, Hogan, Palmer and Nicklaus perhaps?
Or maybe the sport should open a new rogue’s gallery in his honour.
The choice is Tiger’s.
At age 35, the countdown clock has started ticking loudly for Woods in his bid to become golf’s most successful performer of all time.
Though floundering in the deepest slump of his career (never before has he gone 15 months or 17 successive tournaments without a win), Woods still has some chance of winning the five more Majors he needs to surpass the record 18 achieved by Jack Nicklaus.
Yet time definitely has run out for Tiger when it comes to his reputation.
That clock stopped on Sunday afternoon in Dubai — on the 12th to be precise, as Woods plumbed new, more disgusting depths.
Tiger has never been good at managing his temper, a serious flaw in a game which places so much emphasis on character.
The ability to accept misfortune with dignity and perform with grace under duress is as important a measure of any golfer as the trophies on his sideboard.
In the glory days, foul-mouthed outbursts by Tiger usually were overlooked as the mainstream media and general public were swept along by the tsunami of excitement he stirred. Only a few brave souls posed pointed questions about the poor example Woods had been setting before the ‘Crash of 99’ but the fawning ceased when the scandalous excesses of his life off the golf course were exposed.
A year ago next Saturday, the chastened Tiger made his famous live TV address from Sawgrass, apologising for his sexual transgressions and expressing his determination to become ‘a new man’.
If there had been even the faintest shred of sincerity in that slick TV presentation, it was betrayed on Sunday as the real Tiger Woods was exposed in front of millions of TV viewers.
Not for the first time in a frustrating week in Dubai, Woods angrily slammed his club into the ground on the 12th tee last Sunday as his drive flew right of the fairway into a bunker.
It was a childish act of petulance, something one might expect from some spotty kid in the full flush of puberty, not a 35-year-old ‘master’ craftsman currently carving out his second billion from his art.
Worse came on the putting green as Woods perused his 20-foot putt for par. Hunkered down behind his ball, he turned his head to the right and blew a large, white gob of spit onto the manicured grass beside him.
Spitting is not uncommon in field sports. It’s more culturally acceptable in America, where many people chew tobacco rather than smoke it.
Yet not on the putting green, where, minutes later, fellow competitors will be required to lift, clean and replace their golf balls. Ironically, Tiger’s transgression was reminiscent of an equally appalling act by his playing companion, Sergio Garcia, in 2007 when he spat in the cup after three-putting on the 13th green at Doral.
Like Garcia, Woods slumped out of contention with a closing 75 on Sunday. Yet Tiger remains unique in one regard.
While his focus is not all it should be on the golf course, Tiger’s ability last Sunday to remain utterly oblivious to the scores of fans, many of them children, seeking his autograph outside the scorer’s area, was a feat in itself.
The true legends were at home with their fans. Hogan could be Hawkish; Nicklaus had his cranky moments and Palmer was blessed with a roving eye, but they all were very much part of the general golfing community.
While Tiger fights to regain his powers as a player, the most pressing changes he must make are to his demeanour, not his golf swing, if he’s to avoid becoming golf’s greatest pariah.